Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He is environment consultant for New Scientist
magazine and author of numerous books, including Earth Then and Now: Potent Visual Evidence of Our Changing World
, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.
More from Fred Pearce
Is it 150 species a day or 24 a day or far less than that? Prominent scientists cite dramatically different numbers when estimating the rate at which species are going extinct. Why is that?
East Caicos is a tropical jewel – the largest uninhabitated island in the Caribbean and home to rare birds and pristine turtle-nesting beaches. But plans for a giant port for cruise and cargo ships could change it forever.
Since pre-Islamic times, Oman’s water systems known as aflaj have brought water from the mountains and made the desert bloom. But now, unregulated pumping of groundwater is depleting aquifers and causing the long-reliable channels to run dry.
Offshore wind farms have been proliferating in the North Sea, with more huge projects planned. But conservationists are concerned this clean energy source could threaten seabird colonies that now thrive in the sea’s shallow waters.
Ethiopia’s plans to build Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Nile have sparked tensions with Egypt, which depends on the river to irrigate its arid land. But after years of tensions, an international agreement to share the Nile’s waters may be in sight.
Kenya’s high-elevation forests are the source for most of the water on which the drought-plagued nation depends. Now, after decades of government-abetted abuse of these regions, a new conservation strategy of working with local communities is showing signs of success.
From an oil chill in the financial world to the recent U.S.-China agreement on climate change, recent developments are raising a question that might once have been considered unthinkable: Could this be the beginning of a long, steady decline for the oil and coal industries?
The tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004 obliterated vast areas of Aceh province. But villagers there are using an innovative microcredit scheme to restore mangrove forests and other coastal ecosystems that will serve as a natural barrier against future killer waves and storms.
Scientists are offering widely varying estimates of how much carbon we can emit into the atmosphere without causing dangerous climate change. But establishing a so-called carbon budget is critical if we are to keep the planet a safe place to live in the coming century.
As negotiators look to next year’s UN climate conference in Paris, there is increasing discussion of a new way forward that does not depend on sweeping international agreements. Some analysts are pointing to Plan B — recasting the climate issue as one of national self-interest rather than global treaties.
Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.
The coal industry has achieved stunning growth in the last decade, largely due to increased demand in China. But big changes in China’s economy and its policies are expected to put an end to coal’s big boom.
While Germany continues to expand solar and wind power, the government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy means it must now rely heavily on the dirtiest form of coal, lignite, to generate electricity. The result is that after two decades of progress, the country’s CO2 emissions are rising.
In its latest report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes a strong case for a sharp increase in low-carbon energy production, especially solar and wind, and provides hope that this transformation can occur in time to hold off the worst impacts of global warming.
The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.
Scientists are trying to understand if the unusual weather in the Northern Hemisphere this winter — from record heat in Alaska to unprecedented flooding in Britain — is linked to climate change. One thing seems clear: Shifts in the jet stream play a key role and could become even more disruptive as the world warms.
Companies with bad environmental records are increasingly turning to a little-known nonprofit called TFT to make sure they meet commitments to improve their practices. It remains to be seen if this is just a PR move or a turning point for corporate conduct.
From Britain to the Czech Republic, European nations have been restoring rivers to their natural state — taking down dams, removing levees, and reviving floodplains. For a continent that long viewed rivers as little more than shipping canals and sewers, it is a striking change.
The U.N. climate panel concluded last month that carbon emissions should be capped at a trillion tons, a total the world is rapidly approaching. Now comes the hard part: How will we decide how the remaining emissions are apportioned?
Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
Transformed by British sailors in the 19th century, Ascension Island in the South Atlantic has a unique tropical forest consisting almost entirely of alien species. Scientists say that what has happened there challenges some basic assumptions about ecosystems and evolution.
The concept of ecological modernism, which sees technology as the key to solving big environmental problems, is gaining adherents and getting a lot of buzz these days. While mainstream conservationists may be put off by some of the new movement’s tenets, they cannot afford to ignore the issues it is raising.
A giant new hydro project on the Congo River is only the latest in a rush of massive dams being built across Africa. Critics contend small-scale renewable energy projects would be a far more effective way of bringing power to the hundreds of millions of Africans still without electricity.
New research shows that humans have been transforming the earth and its ecosystems for millenniums — far longer than previously believed. These findings call into question our notions about what is unspoiled nature and what should be preserved.
A consensus is emerging among scientists that the rate of global warming has slowed over the last decade. While they are still examining why, many researchers believe this phenomenon is linked to the heat being absorbed by the world’s oceans.
New research shows that scientists have significantly overestimated the damage that logging in tropical forests has done to biodiversity, a finding that could change the way conservationists think about how best to preserve species in areas disturbed by humans.
With activists killed in Brazil, Cambodia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, 2012 may have been the worst year yet for violence against those working to protect the environment. So far, little has been done to halt this chilling development.
An international agreement to study how to redress developing nations for damages from climate change illustrates how ineffective climate diplomacy has been over the last two decades. But this move may pave the way for future court suits against polluting countries and companies.
No broad-based international agreement on sharing rivers currently exists, even though much of the world depends on water from rivers that flow through more than one nation. But that may be about to change, as two separate global river treaties are close to being approved.
On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.
Mega-dams and massive government-run irrigation projects are not the key to meeting world’s water needs, a growing number of experts now say. For developing nations, the answer may lie in small-scale measures such as inexpensive water pumps and other readily available equipment.
The West African nation of Ghana prohibits small operators using chainsaws from logging its forests, but it permits the export of timber cut at large sawmills. Now, some analysts are questioning whether such laws simply benefit powerful business interests without helping local communities or the forest.
Proponents of this nuclear technology argue that it can eliminate large stockpiles of nuclear waste and generate huge amounts of low-carbon electricity. But as the battle over a major fast-breeder reactor in the UK intensifies, skeptics warn that fast-breeders are neither safe nor cost-effective.
The Rio+20 Summit produced a largely meaningless document that failed to address the daunting environmental challenges the world faces. But many at the conference looked to an alternative approach they called “green economics” — using market forces to help nations achieve sustainable development.
With great fanfare, the United Nations announced in March that the world had reduced by half the proportion of people drinking unsafe water, meeting a critical development goal five years ahead of schedule. But a closer look reveals that the facts simply do not support this claim.
A British scientist argues that global warming could lead to a future of more intense volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. And while some dismiss his views as preposterous, he points to a body of recent research that shows a troubling link between climate change and the Earth’s most destructive geological events.
The Ogoniland region of Nigeria has long been badly polluted by decades of oil production that has fouled the delta and contaminated drinking water. A United Nations report has recommended a massive recovery initiative, but so far the Nigerian government has shown few signs it will agree to the cleanup project.
From the rainforests of central Africa to the Australian outback, indigenous people armed with GPS devices are surveying their territories and producing maps they can use to protect them from logging and other outside development.
The long-held contention that rural forest communities are the prime culprits in tropical forest destruction is increasingly being discredited, as evidence mounts that the best way to protect rainforests is to involve local residents in sustainable management.
Twenty years ago, an historic environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro produced groundbreaking treaties and high hopes that pressing issues would be addressed. But as organizers prepare for the Rio+20 conference in June, there is little on the agenda to suggest any substantive action will be taken.
One idea promoted at the Durban talks was “climate-smart agriculture," which could make crops less vulnerable to heat and drought and turn depleted soils into carbon sinks. The World Bank and African leaders are backing this new approach, but some critics are skeptical that it will benefit small-scale African farmers.
A new study finds that Britons are consuming less than they did a decade ago, with similar patterns being seen across Europe. Could this be the beginning of a trend in developed countries? Might we be reaching “peak stuff”?
Despite all the talk about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the world is burning more and more coal. The inconvenient truth is that coal remains a cheap and dirty fuel — and the idea of “clean” coal remains a distant dream.
The draining and burning of peat bogs is a major global source of CO2 emissions. Now, a pilot project in Russia — where wildfires burned vast areas of dried-out bogs last summer — is looking to re-flood and restore tens of thousands of acres to their natural state.
Airborne microbes can travel thousands of miles and high into the stratosphere. Now scientists are beginning to understand the possible role of these microbes — such as bacteria, fungal spores, and tiny algae — in creating clouds, causing rain, spreading disease, and even changing climate.
Phosphate has been essential to feeding the world since the Green Revolution, but its excessive use as a fertilizer has led to widespread pollution and eutrophication. Now, many of the world’s remaining reserves are starting to be depleted.
A decade after a brutal civil war, the West African nation of Liberia has partnered with the European Union on a novel system for protecting its remaining forests — marking every harvestable tree so it can be traced to its final destination. But given Liberia’s history of conflict and corruption, will it work?
While Brazil touts its efforts to slow destruction of the Amazon, another biodiverse region of the country is being cleared for large-scale farming. But unlike the heralded rainforest it borders, the loss of the cerrado and its rich tropical savanna so far has failed to attract much notice.
The Ethiopian region of Gambella is home to Africa’s second-largest mammal migration, with more than a million endangered antelope and other animals moving through its grasslands. But the government has now leased vast tracts to foreign agribusinesses who are planning huge farms on land designated a national park.
The inland Niger delta of Mali is a unique wetland ecosystem that supports a million farmers, fishermen, and herders and a rich diversity of wildlife. But now, the country’s president and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi have begun a major agricultural project that will divert much of the river’s water and put the delta’s future at risk.
The Cancun conference is being credited with keeping international climate talks alive. But the real potential for bringing emissions under control may lie in a Plan B, with nations acting on their own in moving toward a low-carbon economy.
The push to promote sustainable palm oil is turning into a test case for green consumerism. The outcome could help determine the future of the rainforests of Asia and Africa — and whether consumer pressure can really sway corporate giants.
As climate science advances, predictions about the extent of future warming and its effects are likely to become less — not more — precise. That may make it more difficult to convince the public of the reality of climate change, but it hardly diminishes the urgency of taking action.
In the early 20th century, Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov created a preserve outside St. Petersburg that today contains one of the world’s largest collections of rare seeds and crops. Now, scientists and conservationists are waging an international campaign to save the reserve’s fields from being bulldozed for housing development.
A dispute between Egypt and upstream African nations has brought to the fore a long-standing controversy over who has rights to the waters of the Nile. The outcome could have profound consequences for the ecological health of the river and for one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands.
In the wake of the failed Copenhagen summit, prospects for cutting global CO2 emissions are worse than they’ve been in years. With talk of mandated cuts now fading and with countries exploiting loopholes, the world appears headed toward a flawed agreement based not on science but on politics.
The tropical forest conservation plan, known as REDD, has the potential to significantly reduce deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. But unless projects are carefully designed and monitored, the program could be undercut by shady dealings at all levels, from the forests to global carbon markets.
In Africa and elsewhere, burgeoning population growth threatens to overwhelm already over-stretched food supply systems. But the next agricultural revolution needs to get local — and must start to see rising populations as potentially part of the solution.
In recent months, protests over the severe illnesses caused by China's heavy industries have resulted in a crackdown on polluters. Leading the charge has been the state-run media, which the central government is now using to gain control over corrupt local authorities and powerful commercial enterprises.
The traditional parks model of closing off areas and keeping people out simply may not work in Africa, where human demands on the land are great. Instead, what’s needed is an approach that finds ways to enable people and animals to co-exist.
Much was left undone in Copenhagen, and the many loopholes in the climate accord could lead to rising emissions. But the conference averted disaster by keeping the UN climate negotiations alive, and some expressed hope that the growth of renewable energy technology may ultimately save the day.
The way that climate scientists have handled the fallout from the leaking of hacked e-mails is a case study in how not to respond to a crisis. But it also points to the need for climate researchers to operate with greater transparency and to provide more open access to data.
Over the last century, the intensive use of chemical fertilizers has saturated the Earth’s soils and waters with nitrogen. Now scientists are warning that we must move quickly to revolutionize agricultural systems and greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen we put into the planet's ecosystems.
As the International Whaling Commission debates whether to ban all whaling or to expand the limited hunts now underway, recent research has convinced some scientists that the world’s largest mammal should never be hunted again.
The Mekong has long flowed freely, supporting one of the world’s great inland fisheries. But China is now building a series of dams on the 2,800-mile river that will restrict its natural flow and threaten the sustenance of tens of millions of Southeast Asians.
It's overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem: By almost any measure, a small portion of the world's people — those in the affluent, developed world — use up most of the Earth's resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions.
Key developing countries have long been exempt from efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, as global climate talks move forward, that policy must change.
Europe’s backpedaling last month on toughening its carbon trading system may have signaled the end of its leadership on climate change. Now, with a new administration and Congress, America appears ready to commit itself to tackling global warming.
You’ve heard the environmental horror stories: rivers running black, air unfit to breathe, two new coal-fired power plants a week. But thanks to a surging entrepreneurial spirit and new policies, China is fast becoming a leader in green innovation, from recycling to developing electric cars to harnessing the wind.
With food prices skyrocketing and climate change looming, the world needs a green revolution like the one a generation ago. But many valuable seed varieties have been lost – and scientists now are scrambling to protect those that remain before they vanish down the genetic drain.
Paul Ehrlich still believes that overpopulation imperils the Earth’s
future. But the good news is we are approaching a demographic turning
point: Birth rates have been falling dramatically, and population is expected to peak later this century — after that, for the first time in modern history, the world's population
should actually start to decline.
As the public seeks answers about the future impacts of climate change, some climatologists are growing increasingly uneasy about the localized predictions they are being asked to make.
In the discussion of the global food emergency, one underlying factor is barely mentioned: The world is running out of water. A British science writer, who authored a major book on water resources, here explores the nexus between water overconsumption and current food shortages.
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Photographer Robert Wintner documents the exquisite beauty and biodiversity of Cuba’s unspoiled coral reefs. View the gallery.
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The Warriors of Qiugang
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A three-part series Tainted Harvest
looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup. Read the series.